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Yes, it turned out that our nerdtastic adventure in the world of Middle Earth was far from complete. As we made our way back towards civilization and found access to a wireless network, Silas received an email from the Tourism Board of New Zealand – who had learned about our post-set visit trip – and discovered that we had been invited to a small area near Auckland called Matamata where the Hobbiton set from the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit movies was still standing.
After a few more hours of perilous driving north (as far as we traveled we still couldn’t get fully used to being on the opposite side of the road) and a night’s stay at a local motel, we arrived at the Hobbiton Movie Set where we met with Russell Alexander, the owner of the farm that Peter Jackson had selected to use for the building of the famous Hobbit village.
The story of the establishment’s connection to the film trilogy dated back to 1999, when the Alexander Farm was a simple sheep and beef farm. Jackson discovered the land while location scouting the North Island of New Zealand and it took a total of three months to build the set. While the Hobbit homes were originally built to be temporary, when the director returned to the farm over a decade later wanting to use the set again, Mr. Alexander agreed, but only on the condition that the sets be reconstructed with permanent materials so that J.R.R. Tolkien fans, like Silas and myself, could travel across the world and actually step into and walk through the fictional world.
After Silas and I arrived at the location the incredibly friendly and welcoming staff invited us to The Shire’s Rest Café where we were treated to Second Breakfast (which consisted of very filling and delicious eggs, bacon, tomato, sausage, hash browns and toast) while we waited for Mr. Alexander to arrive. Soon enough we finally met and after we shared the story of our hike up Mount Doom and the destruction of Silas’ ring we headed out for the tour. And let me tell you that it was very much the real deal.
Unlike many movie sets I had visited in the past, where overall look had to be sacrificed in the name of having enough space to allow proper camera angles and such, everything about the Hobbiton Movie Set made us feel as though we had actually entered The Shire. The rolling hills were peppered with 45 Hobbit-holes, each of which were unique and stunningly detailed, with differently sized, shaped and colored doors, as well as various props and items carefully scattered about. At the center of the village rested a beautiful, shimmering blue pond, across from which was the recently-constructed Green Dragon Pub, which was still in the middle of construction during our tour. Every inch of the land felt like déjà vu, as we walked along the path that Gandalf’s cart rode along at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, and we looked up at the great tree above Bag End (which was actually fake and constructed out of steel and silicon with wired-on leaves).
And then we arrived at the most famous Hobbit-hole of them all: Bag End, the home of Bilbo Baggins. Though I have seen the Lord of the Rings movies many times before and knew the round green door with a knob in the middle, it was a whole other thing to actually be standing right in front of it. As a special treat, Mr. Alexander even let us go inside, and while it wasn’t actually furnished (for reasons that should be pretty obvious), I can’t even begin to tell you how surreal it was to actually step into the home of one of the most famous literary characters of all time.
It was a truly hard thing to leave behind. In the span of a week I had the chance to spend two days on the set of The Hobbit; speak with legends like Peter Jackson and Ian McKellen; visit Weta Digital and Weta Workshop; climb Mount Doom; destroy the One Ring; travel to Hobbiton and enter Bag End. It was the ultimate journey of pure geekery. Now if only I could find a way to travel to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
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